The dilemma of feeding wild animals when we shouldn’t

So often, we come across messages explaining why we should not feed wild animals. I am not talking about animals in forests. All animals that live in nature are wild. We are even told not to feed animals in zoos. The primary culprits among animals who have the propensity to look for food from us are monkeys. Here are a few illustrations.

The problem with these pictures is, they are used to generalize and create opinion against feeding all wild animals. In the case of monkeys, they are primates like us and we still have similarities with them in the food we eat. They have adapted to our food habits quickly. But why are House Crows, Red Whiskered Bulbuls, Red Vented Bulbuls, Greater Coucals, Asian Koels, Common Mynas, Rufous Treepies and Yellow-billed Babblers coming to my home to eat rice and chapathi (Indian bread) every day? They started coming looking for scraps and that’s how we started feeding them.

Everybody who is interested in understanding life and its evolution should watch the English movie Lucy. Though it is a fantasy sci-fi movie, how single celled organisms became multicellular ones and went on to become complex beings has been wonderfully explained. When habitats are available and food is in abundance, animals procreate and try to increase their population. When habitats decrease and food becomes scarce, animals choose self preservation over procreation. This is how crocodiles and turtles seem to have survived when almost all other animals got wiped out after the asteroid strike 66 million years back. There are plenty of trees in the area where I stay which provides the birds with enough habitat to nest and reproduce. But animals don’t go away from their habitat area in search of food which is why they have evolved into eating different types of food within their habitat area.

Now what if we do not feed animals in the wild? Our encroachment into nature continues unabated as our population keeps swelling. Earth comprises of 30% land mass and 70% water so we and all other land animals are jostling for space in the 30% area. Cutting down trees and destroying forests have two effects on animals. 1) Their habitat areas and food sources dwindle and consequently 2) competition for both increases, not just between animals of the same species but between different species. If this destruction is allowed to continue, most of the animals will be forced to go into self preservation mode. When we decide not to feed them, this can lead to their starvation and death. Extinction of animals do not have to happen by a cataclysmic event alone. Steady loss of habitat and food sources can create the same result over a period of time. Man-eating tigers do not walk for hundreds of kilometers from forests into villages and cities to feed on us. Tigers usually prefer to stay away from humans. We have encroached so much into forest land that our living area has overlapped with their habitat and older tigers are finding us easy kills. The consequences of our actions do not end here.

Before religions took shape, we used to follow pagan culture and fundamental to it is nature worship. Hinduism is a pagan culture and not a religion which is why it has animal Gods and animals depicted as vehicles of Gods. Monkeys have adapted to living with us and can be seen in large numbers across cities in India. Because Hindus worship monkey God Hanuman, monkeys have no threat from people which has allowed them to procreate in large numbers. Similar is the case with the Karni Mata temple, also known as the Temple of Rats in Rajasthan where rats are revered and fed daily and thousands of rats live.

Nature is a system that keeps the population of every being within it under control through food chain and diseases. With the knowledge of agriculture, rearing livestock and treatment of diseases, we exited from nature’s food chain a long time back. This is why our population has exploded. The population of monkeys in Indian cities and rats in the temple has similarly increased because their population is no longer controlled by nature’s food chain. But diseases still control population to a certain extent which is why in spite of all medical breakthroughs thousands of humans die every year. Same is the case with monkeys and rats. By adapting to our society and lifestyle, monkeys have also become vulnerable to dying in traffic accidents, just like stray cats and dogs.

When animals have enough food in nature, they will have no interest in the food we eat. The only way to make this possible is by giving them back the land we have taken from them and let nature restore their habitats and food supply. Pictures and illustrations like the ones above are being wrongly used to demonstrate why we should not feed animals. They should be used to educate people on why nature is important, how badly we have destroyed nature and its ecosystem and highlight the need to control our population.

Business Consultant, Startup mentor, writer, nature conservationist, wildlife photographer